Eye of the Beholder by Lee Rowan

Lee Rowan is well known to readers of gay historical romance particularly for her Royal Navy series, and the last book, Home is the Sailor has just been released to much acclaim.   

When I asked Lee to write a blog post I had no idea what she would talk about and, as usual, she surprised me with her topic.  


Awhile back—I can’t say exactly when or how long ago—I ran across a review in which the reader was complaining about unrealistic heroes in gay romance.  Everyone was gorgeous, he said, and every guy’s apparatus was above average.   Totally unrealistic!    

 He had a point… and he missed the point.  

 I was thinking about this tonight.   My wife had a department function to attend, a charity fundraiser at the university where she works, and she asked if I’d go along.  Normally, it takes a wedding or a funeral to get me into a skirt, but last summer my sweetie—who is at heart a cat person—made the ultimate concession by agreeing to adopt a Shepherd-mix puppy to fill the gap left by the death of my best dog ever.  We had already adopted an adult dog, but those of you who’ve lost a beloved pooch may understand why the only remedy for my malaise was a pup.  He’s a great little guy, obedience classes are going well, the older dog housebroke him incredibly fast with minimal assistance from me… but Watson is a big, rowdy boy, and he’s teething, and he’s barky.   

And my wife puts up with him, because he makes me happy.   

 How could I not agree to something as insignificant as dinner-dance, even with my two left feet and dislike of crowds?  The event would be four hours, tops, whereas the puppy will, if I’m lucky, be with us for at least a decade.   How could I say that was too much trouble, after her kindness?  

So I dug out the pretty outfit that has been hanging in the closet for a couple of years, found the pantyhose and uncomfortable pointy girly shoes… and became a dressed-up fifty-something woman who could stand to lose at least twenty pounds.  (I’m presentable, but I’m a realist.  No one will ever murder me for my beauty.)  

Well, my wife, who is ordinarily an acute and critical observer, looked at me as though I was Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra.  Who she apparently saw was not what I really look like.  But then again… she’s a middle-aged, chubby, average-looking woman, too.  Nevertheless, to me, she’s the most gorgeous creature on the planet.  

Love is a kind of magic.  You can fall in love with a beautiful face—or you can fall in love with a beautiful soul, and suddenly realize that the one you love was beautiful all along.  

Lady Emma

That disgruntled reader probably forgot that he was reading a romance – and one of the characteristics of romance is that the limerance of love turns an ordinary person into a beauty.  

 “To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anesthesia:
To mistake an ordinary young man for a Greek god or an ordinary young woman for a goddess.” 
Well, of course H.L. Mencken would put it that way – he was a professional curmudgeon.  But in a sense, he was exactly right.  

Take a look at old-time paintings, or early photographs of famous historical figures.   Most of the people hailed as handsome or beautiful were ordinary at best.  The real Cleopatra, if we believe the profile on Greek coins, was hatchet-faced, but she captivated both Julius Cesar and Marcus Antonius.   Lady 

Horatio Nelson

 Emma Hamilton, whose affair with Admiral Horatio Nelson scandalized England, was only moderately attractive, but on his deathbed his last thoughts were 

 of her.   

For that matter, Nelson himself was a bit of a pipsqueak, with a longish nose and an apparently endless string of bad hair days, nothing like the ripped heroes on any random romance cover, but he was the rock star of his age…  

Lady Hamilton might not have been respectable, but she was only one of thousands of British women who were at least a little bit in love with the dashing Lord Nelson.    

When Dan Savage, the advice columnist who started the marvelous It.Gets.Better project, wrote “The Commitment” about his marriage to his longtime partner, he made Terry sound like the most gorgeous man who ever found the love of his life in a gay bar.  When I saw their video, I thought, “Well, yeah, he’s very nice-looking, but…”    

But – I’m not the one in love with him.   Dan is.  

In my books, I don’t really expect a reader to believe that my heroes are the finest specimens of manhood that ever walked the planet.  Hell, in the 19th century, anybody with a full set of teeth would have an advantage in the looks department.   People didn’t have the exaggerated expectations of our 

Rudolph_Valentino, silent films sex god

nipped-and-tucked, botoxed, photoshopped image-factory society.   Even the hottest of the hot in early 20th-century films were more ordinary looking than the packaged pretties of today.  

 But when one of my heroes looks at his lover, he doesn’t see a windburned, sun-bleached sailor with a dozen small scars and maybe a couple of big ones, who only gets a thorough wash when it rains because on a ship fresh water is reserved for cooking—he sees the man who holds his heart, without whom life is insupportable.   If I’ve done my job right, the reader will see through my hero’s eyes—the eyes of love.


The ordinary is beautiful, seen through the eyes of love.   I hope that is one thing that will never change.  

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery


  • Really smiling and nodding over this post Lee. Another one here is taller (and weighs more) than her husband and is…19 years younger. When it’s love, those particulars are of no consequence. And besides, who else are we both going to find that insist on sharing a house with 3 German Shepherds (and all of their hair) 😉

  • That was a beautiful post, Lee – and so very true. I think it would serve us all well to remember that. Love makes everything brighter.

  • I just wanted to say that this was a really lovely article and thank you very much for giving me that wonderful warm fuzzy feeling inside. 🙂

    Also, I have to agree with Pam who posted before me and thank you for using the best word I’ve seen today, too–it was a new one for me, and I love learning new words. hehe

    • ooh, cookie!

      I ran across it years ago in an article on the biochemistry of falling in love. It’s not supposed to last, and after you live with somebody the sparkles smooth out, but I think that there’s a sort of rhythm to long-term relationships. You may not be falling into bed every twenty minutes after the first few months (probably a good thing or who’d do the laundry?) but every once in awhile the sparks go off again.

  • Really great post, Lee! I’ve thought about this some in writing characters, too. Beauty is so subjective (and what qualifies as “beautiful” changes over time, too). My thinking is that, yes, beautiful people tend to populate romance novels, but from the perspective of the character falling in love.

  • Lovely post, Lee. “The ordinary is beautiful, seen through the eyes of love.” Well said. Love is an amazing thing. It allows us to see our lovers in a way few others see them (their looks, personality, humor, etc.) Thanks for sharing.

  • Very good points Lee. Romance is fantasy to a point (or sometimes all the way) so I think you have to be prepared to enter a fantasy mind-set when you read it. Very sweet post.

    • Not all the way, I think–I’ve seen a few people in abusive relationships who have gone past fantasy and into denial. It’s tricky. But if the characters don’t love each other enough to see the beauty, it would be kind of sad.

  • This is so very true, Lee. And Feliz has it right, as well. I can deeply relate to everything you’ve said. I’m nearly 2 inches taller than my husband and neither of us is very tall. But in my eyes he’s 6 feet and ripped. Both of us are 50-somethings, too, and he allows me to live with 2 huge dogs. Love IS the best thing ever. 🙂

      • Lee, that’s a perfect line- I love it! 🙂

        We have 2 male bull mastiffs, Duncan and Leo. Prior to the big boys we had a Bernese Mountain Dog, named Betsy, and 2 Border Terriers, Murphy and Annie. We lost all 3 of them in successive years. It was, as you said, heartbreaking. We replaced their love with BIG love(and a big dog food bill!)

        • You aren’t kidding, big. One of our neighbors just got a bull mastiff puppy and he’s huge. The Bernese in our puppy class is a month younger than our pup and already catching up to him. The large-breed puppies look like big stuffed toys… with sharp little teeth.

  • And that’s what love is all about – “real” love, that is. Wonderfully said, Lee, as if you’d read my mind on that subject. I’d make a bet on anything that most people can deeply relate to what you said. After all, beauty is so much sought after because it’s rare, isn’t it? But if and when you love someone, you can clearly see anything that’s beautiful about him or her. You’ll dream of his beautiful eyes and overlook his paunch. He’ll tell you what a fine skin you have and not mention your boobs which had to bend to gravity over times.

    This isn’t only true for the love of our lives, though. From dog-person to dog-person: one of my mutts has to be one of the ugliest cocker spaniels ever. I love him anyway.

    Isn’t love the best thing ever??

    • LOL! I know what you mean–Watson’s ears look like Jar-Jar Binks’ at this point, tho I’m still hoping they’ll be upstanding GSD ears someday. Doesn’t really matter, though.


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I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports - especially baseball
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